Champions Career Centre: A Journey Into Disability: Shifting My Own Perceptions Champions Career Centre: Diversity Champion: ServiceMaster Clean Champions Career Centre: Doing Everything to Get the Job You Want

Making Space and Time to Get the Mental Health Care You Need

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Last week, a dataset on mental health was released from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, and the numbers are sobering. In the last year, approximately 2.8 million people in Canada over the age of 15 reported symptoms consistent with mental health or substance abuse disorders. This is roughly 10% of the population.*

*What is even more startling about this number is that it excludes people living on-reserve or in other Aboriginal settlements, full time members of the Canadian Forces, or the institutionalized population.

Having a mental or substance use disorder, experiencing higher levels of distress, or having two or more chronic physical health conditions were positively associated with reporting a need for mental health care. This is something we encounter frequently at Champions, where the combination of living with a disability and a mental illness can exacerbate symptoms of both conditions.

Counselling was reported as the most common type of care needed by respondents, and nearly 33% of people who had a need for mental health care said their needs were either not met or only partially met. Personal circumstances – like being too busy – were the most frequently reported reasons for people not receiving the mental health care they need.

Time, stress and general busyness can make taking care of our health difficult. It is interesting that those who required medication had the highest rating for having their needs met, over 90%. This suggests that certain parts of our health care system are more adept at treating mental illness than others. The treatment where we need to create time and space for ourselves, or for others, continues to be lacking.

If your workplace or personal life is so busy that you can’t find time to care for your mental health, then they are probably a source of or at the very least contributing to the problem. The best place to start is often to stop. At work, this means creating space to recognize the issues around mental health and get a dialogue going. Only when people begin to discuss and talk about mental illness in an open and honest way can solutions begin to reveal themselves.

Everything begins with workplace culture. And workplace culture rarely begins with a policy or forced workshop for staff. If you are a manager, ask yourself how many people in your workplace have a mental health issue. If the answer is zero, you most likely have a problem. Why? Because the odds of your workplace being the one place where the 1 in 10 Canadians with a mental health issue don’t work is exceedingly improbable. On the flip side, if your staff members are repeatedly taking stress leave, or extended absences from work, then you may also have a problem.

Emotional intelligence training can be a great place to start in the workplace. This can get employees to think about their own emotions and those of others. Building this kind of social support in the workplace can create conversation and be the building blocks of a more supportive culture. Once this conversation gets going then space will be created for more programmes which look after employee health - ones that people will take the time to engage with.

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A Journey Into Disability: Shifting My Own Perceptions

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Are there any accommodations or needs that we should be aware of that would make it easier for you to succeed in your potential role at Champions?"

I remember this question vividly from when I was interviewed for the position of Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Champions last year. At the time, I literally had no idea what Lori James, our Client Services Manager, was getting at when she asked me this. This was representative of the knowledge which I had about disabilities, inclusion and employment at this time in my life - which was little to none.

Prior to this moment, I had generally been committed to issues and ideas surrounding the concept of social justice, both in my professional and academic lives. I have always been deeply concerned about the various inequalities which exist in the societies we live in, and have embarked on a career path where I aspire to address their root or structural causes. (My friends in the corporate world call this career path the PDG - Professional Do Gooder - but this isn't article about addressing their cynicism) While I had never worked with persons with disabilities, or as a career developer for that matter, applying for a position at Champions Career Centre seemed to fit neatly within the kind of work I wanted to do with my life.

At the time, and immediately after being hired, it seemed so simple. Of course people with a disability deserve an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce! Let's help them get jobs!

About one month into my time at Champions, and after a several week crash course on all things related to diversity and inclusion, I participated in my first all day staff meeting. Which was the first all day staff meeting I had ever attended in an office environment. By the end of the meeting my head was pounding and I was completely disoriented.

Now, I understand that almost everyone has a special place in the dark corners of their heart for an all day staff meeting. I sincerely doubt anyone really looks forward to them, or relishes in their glory as they creep into their seventh and eighth hours. However, what I was feeling wasn't the normal fatigue related to being knee deep in a swamp of minutiae all day long, but were symptoms related to Post-Concussion Syndrome.

Before coming to Champions, there were two realities to my life. I loved to work independently, with most of my work experience involving consulting, research and volunteering in a solo capacity. I also seem to love to hit my head. Over the course of my lifetime I have taken a good half dozen shots to the skull, with the after effects getting worse with each concurrent blow, fall or golf ball. It was only with my last concussion - the aforementioned Titleist -  that I had to see doctors about the change in personality and symptoms I was experiencing in the weeks after the accident. Over time, the post-concussion symptoms subsided, and because I worked independently and at my own pace, I didn't believe there any long term ramifications associated with this injury.

It was scary to see my symptoms return. How do you tell a new boss you're struggling? Is it okay to ask for "special" treatment? What will my co-workers think? What if I can't do this job?

I am sure you can see the irony here. All of these questions are asked at Champions almost daily, both by our clients and by employers who want to tackle these challenges. If there ever was a place where a person could disclose how they are feeling about a barrier they are facing in their job, it is at Champions.

One meeting later, I met with Lisa Moon, my Executive Director, to disclose how I was feeling and come up with strategies to be successful, and my official journey into the world of disability began.

And what a journey it has been.

The great thing about being in Marketing and Communications in the modern world is the concept of engagement. Being good in this role is more about listening than anything else. I am a person who loves to learn - I would have gone to university my whole life, and many people would accuse me of trying - and to be a good "MarComm" person in this age involves listening and learning every day.

For the better part of the last two years I have been able to listen and learn from the amazing team at Champions, from the personal successes and challenges facing our clients, and from the amazing people and resources available online.

"Everyone experiences their disability in a unique way." This is a common phrase when it comes to talking about disabilities. It makes sense at a general level, but being able to experience it at a personal level has completely changed my perspective about the world. The fundamental change I have experienced is a respect and understanding for difference.

Yes, I deal with Post-Concussion Syndrome still to this day. Do I consider it a disability? That is tougher to say. I am not alone in this thinking. There are many people who are hard of hearing or deaf who don't consider themselves as living with a disability. Yet there are many, many others who embrace the term. I have no idea what it is like to live with spina bifida, or to be diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, or to live with fibromyalgia and be in chronic pain. Believe me, the list of what I don't understand in the world of disabilities is a mile long - because that is the range of experiences that exist.

Developing an understanding of this range of experiences, and an appreciation for difference, has resulted in me viewing the world completely differently. One of the first things that comes to mind when I enter a room or building is to wonder how accessible it is. I understand the importance of language when talking about disabilities, both in general and at an individual level. I will never upload or create a video without adding captions, no matter the time required.  

Finally, I have seen the inventiveness, innovation and adaptability that goes hand in hand with living with a disability. Every single person has barriers, whether they live with a disability or not, and there are countless things many of us can't do. For myself, I can't hold a tune, hold focus very long in prolonged conversations, or "demonstrate sensitivity at a personal level" (girlfriend's words). Some of my limitations may be a result of my inability to prevent my head from coming into contact with objects at high speeds, but most of my limitations are just personal barriers I have been dealing with my whole life.

My time at Champions has caused me to de-link the things we "can't do" from disability. Yes, some people face real barriers that relate to their condition. I would never deny this, but I also would never start there. I have seen a wide range of disabilities in my time at Champions, but I have seen an even wider range of abilities, and the realm of possibilities are far beyond what I ever imagined.

As I embark on the next chapter of my career path, and move away from Champions, I would like to express a sincere thank you to everyone on the Champions team, the clients and employers we have worked with, and the greater disability community at large. My life is fuller and more enriched from my time engaging with you.

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Diversity Champion: ServiceMaster Clean

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Aligning Core Values with Talent Needs
One in six Albertans has a disability. This enormous talent pool is largely untapped.

When our team at Champions approaches local employers, this is one of the first things we share with them. We know firsthand how hard it can be for employers in Calgary to find and keep the talent they need.  We believe they might be overlooking a pool of talented individuals who can help them meet their recruitment needs.

So when Susan Basudde, one of our Employment Retention Specialists at Champions, contacted ServiceMaster Clean about matching one of our clients with an available position in their company, a new relationship was born.

ServiceMaster Clean is one of the leading cleaning companies in Calgary. They provide janitorial services to commercial buildings, creating better, cleaner environments for employees and visitors of the facilities they service.

“One of our industry’s biggest challenges is employee retention,” says Jennifer Ashley, Director of Business Services at ServiceMaster Clean, “This is a tough job and it takes work to keep people happy and understanding. Cleaning an entire commercial building is a demanding task.”

To meet this challenge, ServiceMaster Clean looks to their core values for keeping their current employees and also to bring in new talent when needed. Central to achieving these goals is their commitment to diversity.

“We believe in diversity. We have associates from very different backgrounds and we know firsthand how a diverse team improves our thinking, makes us more creative, and helps us achieve our collective goals,” explains Jennifer.

ServiceMaster Clean’s commitment to diversity has been an ideal match for working with the team at Champions. In a short period of time we have been able to provide them with several candidates to fill open positions in their company. The variety of positions they have in their organization, and the various work environments that are available, means there is a lot of space to make different accommodations for employees, something ServiceMaster is happy to do.

“The whole team at ServiceMaster Clean is open to new ideas, they want people to work hard and they accommodate them to help make them successful in their role,” says Susan, “They really go above and beyond for their employees.”

We are proud to have ServiceMaster Clean as our Diversity Champion for this month, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with them into the future. When we talk to the team at ServiceMaster Clean, we know we are dealing with leaders in their industry and in their commitment to inclusion.

“We care about people, we value teamwork, we do the right thing and we do what we say,” says Jennifer. “We believe in giving everyone an opportunity to work and make a difference in society.”

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Doing Everything to Get the Job You Want

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

“As a child I read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for fun. Had I known the Internet was coming I would have spent more time outside.”

When you have a vibrant personality, sometimes you just need to let it show. So when you read Maria’s LinkedIn profile and the blurb from above, you can tell she is letting out her fun side.

For many of our clients, including Maria, they come to Champions for advice and help after experiencing failure while trying to find a job on their own. We often serve as a last resort for people who feel as though they are seemingly sending their resume into the void, applying for job after job and never receiving a phone call in return.

Maria had never needed a resume before, she had always been able to network her way into work through her own personal connections. However, after a long career in the restaurant industry as a Chef and Restaurant Manager, Maria wanted to make the switch to an administrative role in the oil and gas sector - and this switch presented her with numerous challenges.

“When I was applying for work in the oil and gas sector, I was literally competing against people from all over the world,” Maria explains. “Recruiters get bombarded with applications and I needed to find a way to stand out and get a foot in the door. I had sent out hundreds of resumes with no response and was extremely discouraged thinking that the two years of education I had put in to switch careers was a waste. That’s where Champions was able to help.”

At Champions, Maria and her Case Manager, Mat, were able to revamp her resume. She was able to develop a disclosure plan to talk about her hearing impairment to an employer – something she hadn’t done since she was fired as a young woman because of her disability. Finally, she participated in our “Jump Start Your Job Search with Social Media” workshop to learn how to manage her online brand and network more effectively online.

Yet it is one thing to learn the skills to be successful in your job hunt, and it is a whole other thing to apply them.

“I’m really not surprised Maria found a job so quickly, or in her job target area,” says Rod Ruff, who facilitated the social media workshop with Maria. “Out of all the clients who have taken this workshop, I have never seen someone dive into LinkedIn and use it so effectively.”

One of the points we emphasize in the social media workshop is that Linkedin is only one part of the networking puzzle. Real networking is developing relationships with people who share your interests and can help realize each other’s goals.

Maria was able to master the combination of face-to-face networking while using LinkedIn as tool to facilitate her job search. When she found out that the career fair at the Calgary Oil and Gas Expo was sold out, she signed up to work it instead. It was here that she met several engineers who recommended she target smaller firms, as they would be easier to get in the door with.

Knowing this, Maria monitored the website of a local oil and gas consulting firm and when a position opened up she was able to apply almost immediately. She included a link to her LinkedIn profile with her resume, and her completed profile wowed the people at the firm so much that she was able to skip the telephone interview and move right on to a face-to-face meeting.

But it was at her interview where Maria was really able to shine.

“Prior to Champions, I had always tried to be really professional in an interview, but Susann (Employment Readiness Facilitator at Champions) showed me that it was more important to let my personality come out during the interview process,” says Maria. “Being myself made all the difference. We laughed the entire time during the interview and when it came time to disclose my disability it simply wasn’t an issue.”

Maria was offered the position as a Project Analyst with the company, which she was happy to accept. All of us at Champions wish you the best in your new job Maria and we are definitely going to miss having you here.

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